The Human Condition
A friend recently exclaimed, “The spiritual path you are following seems to cause you a lot of conflict,” and “Maybe you should decide which way you want to go.” I was quite dismayed by these comments – after all this time and effort, was I still so obviously in conflict? I didn’t have an answer at the time but it caused me to think long and hard about where I was on my journey. The following is how I would have liked to explain things:
We are all in conflict with our thoughts and actions – that is part of the human condition. We say one thing and do something else. There is always a disparity between what we would like people to think we are and who we are in reality. How many of us act exactly the same way in private as we do when we’re in company or at satsang? When we have decided to take one course of action, why are we tempted to do something else which is at odds with that decision? Interesting questions, but how do we explain our behaviour?
As humans, we are made up of the body, the mind and the soul. We often hear therapists talk about the ‘mind, body and spirit’ especially in relation to healing physical ailments. We may get the impression that, if we can bring the body, mind and spirit into harmony, we will lead comfortable lives. However, this would be a misunderstanding of the real relationship among the three.
Mind and spirit are not there to serve the body. Instead, the purpose of the human body is to act as a vehicle for the mind and soul; it is the only form through which the soul can return to its original home. And whilst we remain in the material body, the extent to which we experience pleasure or pain depends entirely upon our karmas.
We have got things upside down and back to front because our lives have always been ruled by our mind, relentlessly trying to find happiness in the world, and moving in completely the opposite direction from our soul.
If we are extremely fortunate, we eventually realize that the world just can’t deliver what the mind is looking for. We become disillusioned with life, perhaps feeling let down by our family and friends, and dissatisfied with our jobs. This is the point when we think, “There must be more to life than this – what is the point of my existence?” This moment of realization is not something we initiate ourselves, and it may be the time when a spiritual Master makes his connection with our soul and awakens that spark within us; if so, it is truly the greatest thing that could ever happen to a human being.
The greatest battle of all
But this is when the battle intensifies between the mind and the soul -and what a mighty battle it becomes! Throughout the ages, all saints have agreed that the mind is the biggest obstacle to overcome on one’s spiritual journey. That’s because the mind doesn’t give up easily; in fact, the more the soul tries to connect with its source, the harder it will try to stop the soul.
According to the philosophy of Sant Mat, we have been accumulating karmas since time began because all actions create karma. We enter the world to pay off the karmic debts from previous births but, through our actions, end up creating more karma. We continue to exist, therefore, in this never-ending cycle of birth and death – the cycle of transmigration.
My friend also observed that an illness I had contracted years ago started roughly at the same time I had been initiated and wondered if there was any connection. Again, after some reflection, I confirmed that this could be so and offered the following explanation.
When we make a concerted effort to break the cycle of transmigration through spiritual practice, we start to pay off our karmic debt and this can sometimes lead to a lot of suffering. The only consolation is that if one applies oneself to the spiritual practice with determination, the hardships become much more bearable, as we stop seeing them in a negative way, as something ‘bad’. Illness, including its length and severity, is one means of paying off karma. This could explain why some illnesses resolve seemingly of their own accord, whilst others do not respond to any kind of treatment.
It’s not all doom and gloom
The purpose of meditation is to release the stranglehold the mind has over the soul by turning its attention away from the attractions of the world, and slowing down its activity until it finally becomes motionless. This can take a lifetime to achieve and requires an enormous amount of dedicated effort on our part together with the help of the Master. In the meantime, it is not surprising that, along the way, there is some conflict between our aspirations and the dictates of our mind. However, it’s not all doom and gloom.
With constant practice, the mind learns that stillness can be enjoyable and eventually the soul is able to bask in the light of its true home, captivated by the enchanting sound of its power source, floating in God’s love.
Some see the spiritual path as a cop-out from life, for losers who can’t cut it in the ‘real’ world, or as a dismal existence of abstinence and deprivation. Nothing could be further from the truth, as it takes a great deal of courage to swim against the tide of the rest of humanity. It’s far easier to give in to the mind with its addictions and obsessions than to stand in defiance and go the other way.
The purpose of our human existence is to find fulfilment and freedom, but not in the material world. We are spiritual beings and we will never find peace in the transitory and ever-changing things of the world. Contentment arises through the stillness of the mind and our fulfilment as human beings comes about as we learn to hold the mind in one-pointed concentration. True freedom is only achieved when the soul is finally released from the clutches of the mind and merges back into the ocean of bliss forever.
A great Japanese warrior named Nobunaga decided to attack the enemy although he had only one tenth the number of men the opposition commanded. He knew that he would win, but his soldiers were in doubt.
On the way he stopped at a Shinto shrine and told his men, “After I visit the shrine I will toss a coin. If heads comes, we will win; if tails, we will lose. Destiny holds us in her hand.”
Nobunaga entered the shrine and offered a silent prayer. He came forth and tossed a coin. Heads appeared. His soldiers were so eager to fight that they won their battle easily.
“No-one can change the hand of destiny,” his attendant told him after the battle.
“Indeed not,” said Nobunaga, showing a coin which had been doubled, with heads facing either way.
Paul Reps, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones